The Lowell Observatory Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach Program

Project Description

One group that is striving to improve the education of their children is Native Americans. It is also a group that has been nearly absent from the physical sciences. Furthermore, among the Navajo and Hopi in northern Arizona and New Mexico, few science teachers at Navajo and Hopi schools are themselves Native Americans, resulting in a lack of science role models for students. When asked to describe a professional astronomer before ever seeing one, many students in several 7th and 8th grade Navajo classes described an astronomer as a middle-aged, white male with a foreign accent. This picture is not conducive to having the students think of astronomy or science as a career for themselves. Nevertheless, both the Hopi and Navajo are keenly interested in improving their science education.

Located in northern Arizona, adjacent to the Navajo and Hopi lands, Lowell Observatory is optimally situated to share the excitement of astronomy with several Native American peoples and contribute to enhancing science education in their schools. Therefore, in the summer of 1996 we initiated an outreach program to bring the excitement of astronomy to Navajo (Dine) and Hopi schools (history, funding). (See Mercury, May/June 1999, Vol. 28, No. 3, page 18 for a published summary of our program).

The goals of our program are twofold:

---- Our program is modeled after Project ASTRO, a program designed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific that pairs astronomers with elementary and secondary school teachers. Each of us works with one teacher at a different school, a different teacher at a different school each year (focus, history). Throughout the year we make numerous visits to our teacher's classes and lead discussions linked with hands-on activities. We also hold nighttime star parties that involve the parents and family members of the students. The participation of the parents in the education process of their children is important to the success of that process, and star parties are an excellent way to foster this involvement. In addition, beginning in our second year we were able to bring our classes to Lowell Observatory. The classes spend the afternoon at the Steele Visitor Center and the night observing at two of Lowell Observatory's research telescopes.

Sensitivity to the cultures and world views of Native American audiences is an important part of our program. We are concerned with making our presentations and activities particularly interesting and relevant to Navajo and Hopi students.

By working with teachers we expand the impact of our program beyond the classrooms with which we meet directly each year. The teacher is a full partner in the classroom activities and in so doing learns about the activities so that she/he can do them with their other classes. We supply the materials for the activities and discussion and leave these with the teacher in order to help them share the activities with their other classes. ---- We also try to involve the other teachers in the school indirectly. We ask the teacher with whom we are working to act as a resource for the other teachers, both for experience and materials. From our second year until 2001, our astronomer-teacher pairs were able to attend the ASTRO workshop in Tucson held by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. This workshop, intended to introduce their astronomer-teacher pairs and help them prepare for the school year, helped us learn about classroom activities and prepare for the school year as well. We are grateful to NOAO for allowing our participants to attend. Beginning in April 2001 we have been holding our own workshops at Lowell Observatory. All teachers who have participated in our program have been invited to attend and to bring another teacher from their school.

Here is an article we wrote after our first few years of experience: Mercury 99.


To be eligible to participate, a teacher must satisfy the following criteria:

Teachers satisfying these criteria are invited to apply. We take teachers on a first-come basis. Please contact Deidre Hunter at dah[at]lowell[dot]edu or 928-233-3225 (phone) or 928-774-6296 (fax). Thank you for your interest in our program.

Cultural Connections

An important aspect is to present astronomy activities in ways that foster learning specifically by Native American students. This is considered a crucial aspect in the education of Native American students by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). Most Native American groups have different learning styles which must be taken into consideration in order to be effective as a teacher. For example, students may do better working cooperatively in small groups than in a setting of individual competition. For some students English is a second language which should also be taken into account, and to help us understand the issues we visited a class at Marshall Elementary School that has a large proportion of ESL students. ----

In addition, both the Navajo and Hopi have strong traditional knowledge concerning the universe and astronomical objects. As presenters in the schools, we need to be sensitive to the traditions surrounding astronomy, including taboos. Students will also be more receptive if they see that there is a connection to their culture and their experiences. We are continuing to explore ways to make cultural tie-ins particularly through on-going collaborations with individuals who are versed in the traditional knowledge.


Our program focuses on 5th through 8th grade students. We have chosen this narrow age range primarily because we want to reach students at the transition period between the inherent curiosity about the world of young children and the fixed negative attitude towards science often seen in high school students. It is at this middle-school stage that one can have the most impact on future career options and attitudes towards science. In addition, by working with students in approximately the same conceptual development level, it is easier for us to learn to present ideas and work with the students on activities in an age-appropriate manner. ----

The Next 20 Years

The first 20 years of Navajo-Hopi Outreach were built around individual hands-on activities. Although there may be a common thread running through the activities, such as the nature of models, each activity otherwise stands alone. However, in May 2016 we convened a group of three teachers who had participated in our program before to consider "Within the constraints of what we can do, how can we make this program more effective and of the most use to teachers?" The teachers recommended that we undertake curriculum development with a Project Based Learning (PBL) approach. Such an approach would have students doing science activities that are more self-directed investigations and enable them to see themselves as scientists, a crucial step in bringing minorities into STEM fields. The majority of Navajo and Hopi middle school students, when asked to draw a picture of a scientist at the beginning of the school year, inevitably describe a white man in a lab coat with a foreign accent. How can this apply to them? And when asked what career they see for themselves, they list the jobs they see around them, such as gas station clerk or policeman or teacher. Project Based Learning allows students to learn by doing. This type of education, which is used in the kids’ summer camps at Lowell Observatory, is perhaps what minority students need to help them see themselves as scientists.

The new curriculum will also be a coherent package that can be clearly and explicitly aligned to state (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, or Colorado), national, BIE, and tribal science standards, creating more buy-in from teachers and principals and enabling greater sustained usage after the teachers leave our program. This would also help fill a void that has teachers currently scrambling for curriculum.

Therefore, in the summer of 2016 we began by designing a week-long unit on the characteristics of the planets for 5th grade. Lowell's Todd Gonzales, a certified teacher trained in PBL, led the development. Verna Tallsalt, a Navajo teacher, developed the parts that provide Dine cultural tie-ins. This winter, we have tested the unit in three of our partnerships, with the first test being a partnership between Todd and Verna in Verna’s 5th grade class. This spring we will host a one-day meeting of the three test teachers and astronomers, the three advisors who met last May, and our program evaluator in order to assess the unit. Based on this, we will adjust the unit for use by the regular partnerships in the 2017-18 school year. During the 2017-18 school year we will work on adding a technical component to the 5th grade unit. This will involve robotic exploration of a planetary surface that the students will construct. This is based on an activity used in the Lowell Observatory middle school summer camp, designed and led by Todd Gonzales, who will develop this component for us. We will again convene our advisors in the spring of 2018 to evaluate this part of the unit. The goal is to eventually have several units for each of 5th-8th grades.


We are very grateful to these people, organizations, and companies for supporting our program. Without their financial support this program would not exist.

School Year Organization
1996-1997 Lowell Observatory


1997-1998 NASA IDEAS
1998-1999 AlliedSignal

Private donor

1999-2000 AlliedSignal

BF Foundation

Phoenix Sun Charities

Soroptimist International of Flagstaff

2000-2001, Teacher Workshop Alcoa

BF Foundation



Soroptimist International of Flagstaff

2001-2002 Alcoa



Phelps Dodge Fund

2002-2003 Aloca

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

2003-2004 O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation


Soroptimist International of Flagstaff

2004-2005 America West Airlines

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

Flagstaff Community Foundation

Forest Highlands Foundation


2005-2006 Bank of America Foundation

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation



Tuba City Regional Community Foundation

2006-2007, Teacher Workshop O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation


2007-2008 Bank of America Foundation





US Airways Education Foundation

Wells Fargo Bank

2008-2009 ASML Foundation

Bank of America Foundation

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation



2009-2010 O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation


NASA (HST) (Grundy)

NAU NASA Space Grant

2010-2011 Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Bank of America

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

Mr. and Mrs. John and Meg Menke

Motorola Foundation

National Science Foundation (teacher workshop)

NAU NASA Space Grant

2011-2012 O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

Mr. and Mrs. John and Meg Menke

NAU NASA Space Grant

NASA (HST) EPO Grant (Grundy)

2012-2013 Arizona Public Service Foundation

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

Mr. and Mrs. John and Meg Menke

NAU NASA Space Grant

NASA (HST) EPO Grant (Grundy)

2013-2014 Arizona Public Service Foundation

Robert Martin Ayers Sciences Fund

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

National Science Foundation (teacher workshop)

NASA (HST) E/PO (Grundy)

2014-2015 O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

American Astronomical Society Education Award to Deidre Hunter

NASA (HST) E/PO (Grundy)

NAU Space Grant

Peggy Taylor

The Stone Soup Foundation

Don Trantow

2015-2016 Arizona Public Service

Richard F. Caris Foundation

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

Mr. Craig N. Jansen

John F. Long Foundation

Dr. Philip Massey

Ms. Mary Miller Stair

NASA (HST) E/PO (Grundy)

NAU Space Grant

Diana and Anthony Visdas

Ms. Roselle Wissler

Mr. Helmut Wolf

2016-2017 Anonymous

Barringer Crater

Linda Abramowicz-Reed

William P. Bryan

David G. Early

Tim Fyke

Colleen Hudgens

John and Meg Menke

Terry and Linda Stephenson

Helmut Wolf

Arizona Public Service

Thomas R. Brown Foundation

O. P. and W. E. Edwards Foundation

John F. Long Foundation

Soroptimist International of Flagstaff

Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation

If you are interested in donating to this program, please click on this link: DONATE. Thank you very much for supporting our outreach efforts!

The Lowell Observatory Participants

This program was initiated by Dr. Amanda Bosh (participant 1996-97, 1998-2006) and Dr. Deidre Hunter (email: dah [at], astronomers at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

We have been joined by post-docs and pre-docs over the years: Dr. John Stansberry (1997-98), Dr. Sally Hunsberger (1998-2000), Dr. Brian Oetiker (2000-01), Dr. Julie Rathbun (2000-01), Dr. Laura Woodney (2001-03), Mr. Chris Crockett (2008-10), Ms. Megan Jackson (2008-11), Dr. Kim Herrmann (2008-12), and Dr. Matthew Knight (2009-10). Mr. David Portree, an award-winning independent science writer and historian, participated in the program 2003-07. Various Lowell staff have also participated for periods of time: Dr. Sally Oey (2001-04), Dr. Nat White (2004-05), Dr. Travis Barman (2007-08), Dr. Nick Moskovitz (2014-15), Dr. Henry Roe (2007-10), Mr. Kevin Schindler (2010-11, 2015-16), and Ms. Sone Sithhonorath (2012-14, 2015-16).

Currently, Lowell staff with on-going participation are Dr. Deidre Hunter, Dr. Will Grundy, who has been a participant since 2001, and Ms. Alethia Crawford (Little), an educator at Lowell Observatory who has participated since 2012. Joining us in 2015-16 are post-docs Dr. Tom Allen and Dr. Alma Ruiz-Velasco.

Currently from NAU, we have Joey Chatelain, a graduate student at Georgia State University who is in residence at NAU and has participated since 2013, Dr. Lisa Chien, a faculty member who joined in 2014, and Dr. Michael Mommert, a post-doc who also joined in 2014.


The 1996-1997 school year was our exploratory year for defining the program and learning what works best. We worked with two teachers that year: Marty Nelson, an 8th grade science teacher at the Navajo Tse' Bit' Ai Middle School in Shiprock, New Mexico, and Allen Doering, a 5th and 6th grade teacher at the Hopi Polacca Day School in Polacca, Arizona. Both teachers have some experience in astronomy: Mr. Doering has attended the American Astronomical Society workshop for teachers held at NAU and Ms. Nelson teaches college astronomy in the summers through the Navajo Community College. With their astronomy backgrounds, both teachers were able to advise us on the teaching aspects of our classroom visits.

In our second year (1997-1998) we worked with Linda Doering, a 5th grade teacher at Second Mesa Day School at Second Mesa, Arizona. Ms. Doering also had attended the American Astronomical Society workshop for teachers held at NAU. We also worked with David Schindelman, a 7th and 8th grade teacher at Chinle Middle School in Chinle, Arizona.

In our third year (1998-1999) we worked with Stephanie Tucci, a seventh grade teacher at Cottonwood Day School, Catherine McCormick, a sixth grade teacher at Hopi Day School, and Franklin Tohannie, a sixth grade teacher at Tonalea Day School.

In our fourth year (1999-2000) we worked with Beth McCauley and her eighth grade class at Rocky Ridge Boarding School and Elizabeth Alden, a 6th grade teacher at Moencopi Day School.

---- In our fifth year (2000-2001) we worked with Keith Mook and his 5th grade class at Seba Dalkai Boarding School, Mark McConnel and his 5th grade class at Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School, and Jim Mason and his 5th/6th/7th grade class at Tolani Lake Elementary School Academy.

In our sixth year (2001-2002) we worked with Cindy Rodriguez and her 8th grade classes at Hopi Junior/Senior High School; Brother Dwight Kenny and his 7th grade classes at Ganado Middle School; and Alfred Bigay and his 6th grade class at Second Mesa Day School.

In our seventh year (2002-2003) we worked with Idella Poocha and her 5th grade class at Keams Canyon Boarding School, Loretta Williams and her 5th grade class at Ganado Intermediate School, Jean Moore and the 7th graders at Kaibeto Boarding School, Aria Campbell and her 5th grade class at Crystal Boarding School, and Glenn Mengason and the 5th graders at Kayenta Community School.

In our eighth year (2003-2004) we worked with Rosie Suen and her 8th grade classes at Rock Point Community School, John Hall and his 8th graders at Kayenta Middle School, and Adrianne Keene and her 6th grade class at Hopi Day School.

In our ninth year (2004-2005), we worked with Judy-Suzanne Sadler and her 6th-8th grade classes at T'iis Nazbas Community School, Amanda Saganitso and her 5th grade class at Eagles Nest Intermediate School, Ann Satran and her 5th grade class at Tsehootsooi Dine Bi'olta' School, and Dennis Lowe and 5th-8th grade students at Naatsis'aan Community School.

In our tenth year (2005-2006), we worked with Ali Henderson and her 3-6 graders at First Mesa Elementary School, Rochelle Barton-Silver and her 7th graders at Pinon Accelerated Middle School, Rowena Dolino and her 7th graders at Tse Ho Tso Middle School, and Katherine Billie/Loretta McNamee and their 7th and 8th graders at Dilcon Community School.

In our 11th year (2006-2007), we worked with Virginia Tulley and her 5th graders at Window Rock Elementary School, Rosie Terry and her 8th graders at Seba Dalkai Boarding School, Richard Thomson and his 6th grade classes at Jeddito Elementary School, Susan Holiday and her 7th and 8th graders at Leupp Middle School, and Laura Tsosie and her 5th graders at Pinon Elementary School.

In our 12th year (2007-2008), we worked with Charles Carter and his 6th grade class at Moencopi Day School, Alice Yellowhair and Nancy Bedonie and their 5th and 6th grade classes at Kayenta Community School, Verna Clinton and her 6th grade class at Chinle Elementary School, and Judy-Suzanne Sadler and Amy John who were team-teaching 7th and 8th graders at Tse Bit 'Ai Middle School in Shiprock, New Mexico.

In our 13th year (2008-2009), we worked with Renee White and her students at Leupp Schools, Inc., Muriel Goldtooth and Charlette Davis and their 5th graders at Eagles' Nest Intermediate School, Nicholette Wright and her 7th and 8th graders at Monument Valley High School, Marty McQuade and 6th graders at Wide Ruins Community School, Karen Duwyenie and 6th graders at Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School, and Allen Doering at Second Mesa Day School.

In our 14th year (2009-2010) we worked with Maxine Arviso and 5th and 6th grade students at Naschitti Elementary School, Lynda Taylor and Gilbert Tracey and their 7th and 8th grade classes at Rough Rock Middle School, Eric Stauth and 5th graders at Pinon Elementary School, Grace Mahkewa and 7th graders at Hopi Jr/Sr High School, Shara Kanaswood and 6th graders at Moencopi Day School, and Justin Roberson and 5th graders at Dzil Libei Elementary School.

In our 15th year (2010-2011) we worked with Lafina Willard and her 6th grade classes at Ganado Intermediate School, Eric Bedonie and his 5th grade class at Jeddito Elementary School, Melody Pierson and 5th graders at Tohatchi Elementary School, Pernell Begay and his 5th graders at Rocky Ridge Boarding School, and Clara Goodluck and 6th graders at Tsehootsooi Middle School.

In our 16th year (2011-2012) we worked with Berlinda Begaye and 5th graders at Window Rock Elementary, Irene Pelt and 6th graders at Naatsis'Aan Community School, and Mary Phillips and Gifted and Talented 5th graders in the Window Rock School District.

In our 17th year (2012-2013) we partnered with Ms. Verna Tallsalt and her 6th graders at First Mesa Elementary School, Ms. Jessica Baglione and 5th graders at Hopi Day School, Mr. Kevin Loughran, the Gifted and Talented teacher at Hopi Day School, and Ms. Nelaine Shorty and her 5th grade class at Chinle Elementary School.

In our 18th year (2013-2014) we partnered with Ms. Karen Duwyenie and Ms. Adrianne Keene and their 6th grade classes at Moencopi Day School, Mr. Bernard Leonard and his 6th grade class at Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School, Ms. Lindsay Bahe and Ms. Della Denetso and their 4th-6th grade students at Keams Canyon Elementary School, Ms. Bernadette Armstrong and her 5th grade class at Dzil Libei Elementary School, and Sheryl Jackson and her 6th graders at Tuba City Boarding School.

In our 19th year (2014-2015) we partnered with the following teachers: Ms. Mary Erkman and and Ms. Yazzie and their 7th graders at Many Farms Community School, Ms. Jolene Smith and her 5th graders at Kayenta Middle School, Ms. Cynthia Johnson and her 5th/6th graders at Cove Day School, Ms. Lucinda Wauneka and her 5th graders at Hunters Point Boarding School, Ms. Rose Ann Benally and her 7th graders at Red Rock Day School, and Ms. Juanita Tso and her 6th graders at Tuba City Boarding School.

In our 20th year (2015-16) we partnered with Mr. David Greasewood and his 6th and 7th graders at Dilcon Community School, Ms. Patty Hatfield-Deering and her 7th and 8th grade classes at Tsaile Public School, Ms. Crystal Schalliol and students from different grade levels at Ganado Middle School, Mr. Duane Yazzie and his 4th graders at Tsehootsooi Intermediate Learning Center, Ms. Caroline Yazzie and her 7th grade classes at Lukachukai Community School, Mr. Ben McClellan and his 7th and 8th graders at Jeddito Public School, and Ms. Venita Vaughn and 6th and 7th graders at Seba Dalkai School.

In our 21st year (2016-17) we are partnering with Ms. Mary Washburn and 6th graders at Kaibeto Boarding School, Ms. Tammie Bowman and 5th graders at Naschitti Elementary School, Ms. Mary Kate Suhy and 5th graders at Navajo Elementary School, Ms. Kristen Simo and Ms. Philarena Plummer and their 5th graders at Newcomb Elementary School, Ms. Debra Chee and 5th graders at Newcomb Elementary School, Ms. Kayla Begay and her 6th-8th graders at Dzil Ditl'ooi School of Empowerment, Action, and Perseverance (DEAP), Ms. Verna Tallsalt and her 5th grade class at Jeehdeez’a Elementary School, Ms. Cora Charley and her 7th grade class at Aneth Community School, and Ms. Esther Peaches and 6th-8th graders at Kaibeto Boarding School.

We are grateful to these teachers for their dedication to their students.

Lowell Observatory Astronomy Workshops for Hopi and Navajo Teachers

April 21, 2001 we held a workshop at Lowell Observatory for teachers who have participated in our program and others from their schools. We had 14 participants. The program featured astronomy classroom activities, teacher presentations, tours of our research telescopes, and a nighttime program at the Lowell Visitor Center.

We now aim to hold workshops every 2-3 years for current and past Outreach Program participants and their colleagues: 21 October 2006, 19-20 September 2008, 5-6 November 2010, 15-16 November 2013, 17-18 November 2016.

Arizona State Educational Standards for 5th-8th grades

These are the Arizona science standards by grade for 5th-8th grades: Grade 5, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8.

These are the Arizona science standards organized for all grades, by topic ("strands"): Inquiry Process, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science.

Useful things for astronomer partners (local access only)

Last updated March 22, 2017